Friday, December 13, 2013

American Graffiti (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) (1973)

American Graffiti"Where were you in `62?"

I wasn't around in `62 -I was born in `63, as a matter of fact, and I was 10 when George Lucas' American Graffiti was released. I wasn't really aware of either George Lucas or American Graffiti in 1973, although four years later I would know Lucas from his next -and most popular -film, Star Wars. I did not go to the movies much in 1973, but I saw this wonderful film when it was broadcast by ABC some years later. (ABC, capitalizing on its "hot" new sitcom, Three's Company, shamelessly promoted it as "starring Suzanne Somers." In fact, Suzanne is not even billed with the eight "stars.")

If film and television historians have it right, though, American Graffiti was the catalyst for the 1950s Nostalgia fad that begat TV's Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and the blessedly short-lived Joanie Loves Chachi (not to mention Sha Na Na and Broadway`s Grease). And it isn't terribly surprising that Happy Days and its spin-offs owe their inspiration -if not their very existence -to Lucas' first major culturally significant film. Happy Days starred Ron Howard, who (as Ronny Howard) had second billing in Graffiti, while Laverne and Shirley costar Cindy Williams was the female lead.

American Graffiti is a bittersweet yet comedic look at what the DVD publicity blurb says was "America's last age of innocence." In the summer of `62, JFK was in the White House, the Beatles were still unknown in this side of the Atlantic, and drive in diners and movie palaces were very popular. There was no Internet or even Studio 54 just yet, so kids went cruising, looking for girls to pick up or rivals to race in their souped-up hot rods. (Lucas, in the Making Of documentary on the 25th Anniversary DVD, says his intent in making American Graffiti was to document cruising as a socio-cultural phenomenon that died in the more turbulent half of the 1960s.)

The movie's structure -commonplace now but it was revolutionary at the time -intertwines several plots involving a group of recently graduated Southern California high school seniors on their last night before going to college. Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) is fretting about going to college in the East with his friend Steve (Howard). Wracked with indecision, he spends his last night in town searching for The Blonde in the White Thunderbird (Suzanne Somers in her first, albeit small, role). His misadventures cause him to step out of character, especially when he crosses paths with The Pharohs, the local gang of miscreants.

Curt's sister Laurie (Williams) must not only cope with her brother's last minute bout with "cold feet" but with the fear of losing Steve. In what may be a typical situation for couples who are "steady" but are going to be separated by circumstances, she's devastated by Steve's suggestion that they "see other people" while they are in school. "I can't expect you to be a monk," Laurie says with false bravado, but in "The Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" sequence, it is obvious that she is hurt and angry.

The other two subplots of this wonderful film center on Toad (Charlie Martin Smith) and John (Paul Le Mat). Toad is the car-crazy, girl-deprived nerd that we either knew in school or that we recognize in ourselves. His attempts to impress the lovely Debbie (Candy Clark) are hilarious -rivaled only by a similarly themed scene in Summer of '42 -only to discover that Debbie likes him for who he really is. John, on the other hand, is the Han Solo of this bunch, the high school dropout who loves fast cars and even faster women. He, too, discovers a tender side as he is saddled with 12-year-old Carol (a pre-One Day at a Time Mackenzie Phillips). Not only must he learn patience while driving around with Carol, but also he is being challenged as the top drag racer by Bob Falfa (played by the man who would be Han Solo, Harrison Ford).

All these stories will converge in a climactic, winner take all race, and several Lucas touchstones will resurface in his later Star Wars series -the choice to either take or reject a certain path, the relationship between men and their machines, and the quest for either love or adventure.

Serving as a unifying thread to all these subplots is Wolfman Jack, mostly heard on the radio but seen briefly in a Yoda/Ben Kenobi style of mentor for restless Curt.

Lucas uses music here very effectively. Each song (and there are over 40 here, ranging from Rock Around the Clock to The Great Pretender) was chosen to provide emotional context, not just period atmosphere. He envisioned American Graffiti as a musical "with no singing or dancing."

This film is fun to watch and definitely deserves having been votes as one of the American Film Institute's top 100 Films of All Time. Watch it with a friend or alone, and if you were of age in the 1960s, answer the movie's famous log line: "Where were you in `62?"

I originally watched this movie in high school. Despite having been told about most of the best scenes in advance by my friends, it was still a lot of fun. Of course, a lot of other people thought so too, as it spawned a nostalgia craze for the 50s and early 60s resulting in many (too many?) seasons of "Happy Days," among others.

A few years ago, I saw the movie again on TV. I realized that, even though I was much more mature (at least physically), this movie still seemed very very good.

I recently got the DVD and watched it properly and I have to say that, after careful scrutiny, this really is one of the finest films ever made. I won't retell a story that's much better told by the movie, but: it has a lot of laughs, but it's not entirely a comedy (especially the ending); it has plenty of music, but it's not a musical; it has plenty of action, but no blood and gore; it seems incredibly realistic, but there is never a dull moment; there are multiple storylines and an ensemble cast, but it never gets confusing.

Every aspect of this movie is impressive, but I'm particularly struck by the genius of George Lucas and associates when it comes to casting. Every actor in this movie seems perfect for the role they play. If you look hard you'll see quite a few familiar faces getting their start (including Suzanne Somers very briefly as the girl in the Thunderbird). Many, particularly Harrison Ford & Richard Dreyfuss, went on to long, successful careers. Although they were all great in this film, I thought that Candy Clark was a standout.

If you get this collector's edition of the DVD you'll also be able to see an in-depth "extra" on the story behind the making of the film very interesting. It's inspiring to see that somebody as currently renowned as Lucas had to be incredibly patient and persistent (and put up with a lot of incredible Hollywood idiots) in his early days before his idea was finally realized. His success in making this movie under such tough circumstances makes the end product even more impressive. It's also very impressive to me that George Lucas went from writing/directing/creating a movie like "THX 1138" to this and then to "Star Wars" all three very good and VERY different films. I don't know of anyone else who has accomplished anything quite like that.

Although I'm now quickly approaching middle age, I wasn't really old enough to be a part of the era depicted in the movie, so this isn't a nostalgia trip for me. The music isn't my music I'm more of a post-British Invasion fan. But the fact that a movie can make you relate deeply to characters from a realistic time and place you've never been says something significant. Also, the fact that it I've now enjoyed it on several different levels and at widely varying ages says even more...

Simply one of the greatest movies ever made.

Buy American Graffiti (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) (1973) Now

I think you'll find that the cash you'll fork over for this DVD Collector's Edition of 1973's "American Graffiti" will be money very wisely spent. Because the outstanding, in-depth, 78-minute documentary feature, "The Making Of American Graffiti", is worth the cost all by itself.

Every single one of the film's major cast members takes part in the documentary program. Director George Lucas and Producer Francis Ford Coppola (plus other members of the production staff and crew) also participate in this fascinating behind-the-scenes "Making Of" feature, which is one of the best documentaries I've ever come across on a DVD.

Mr. Lucas talks openly and extensively about the making of "Graffiti" and guides the viewer, step-by-step, through the many aspects of creating this unique film -from the difficulty in getting a studio interested in the project, to the movie's filming on the streets of two small California towns, and through to the release of the picture in theaters (the movie opened on August 11, 1973).

Many interesting tidbits of information are revealed in the documentary, including Harrison Ford's recollection of his "cowboy hat". It seems that Harrison was opposed to getting one of those awful '60s-style haircuts (as were others in the cast). So Ford talked Director Lucas into letting him wear a cowboy hat instead. And then there's Charlie Martin Smith ("Toad"), who had some problems parking his motor scooter in the film's very first scene. But Charlie's gaffe was left in the final cut of the movie by Director Lucas. (Which is a good thing too; it's a great moment in the picture.)

Some original actor Screen Tests are also included in the Making-Of documentary. If you keep your eyes peeled on the "clapboards" that are shown in a few of these Screen Test shots, you'll note that the date of filming is "May 26, 1972" (which is 15 months before the movie finally got released into theaters).

"Graffiti" took just four weeks to film, but Mr. Lucas, during the documentary, said that it took him six months after filming was completed to edit the movie down to a manageable size. He tells us that his first cut of "Graffiti" was a mammoth three hours in length. Therefore, much paring was required.

Other bonus features on the DVD include the Original Theatrical Trailer, which I found very good. Plus, a goodly number of "Cast & Crew Bios" to scroll through; as well as some informative Production Notes. All text pages I found most rewarding as well.

Then, of course, the DVD (which was originally released by Universal Home Video on September 15, 1998, to commemorate the movie's 25th anniversary) offers up a nice-looking Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1 version of "Graffiti" itself. Colors look rich and saturated and the black levels during the many outdoor night scenes look very sharp as well, with little in the way of video distractions. Some fans of the film will no doubt be disappointed that a Dolby 5.1 re-mix was not included here (just a 2.0 Surround Sound track is employed for this DVD). But I think the Surround track does quite nicely. But a full-fledged 5.1 would also have been nice, to highlight the amazing number of rock-and-roll oldies in the film.


Feature Film:

> Video -Widescreen 2.35:1 (Enhanced for 16x9 Widescreen Televisions).

> Audio -English (2.0 Dolby Digital Surround); French (2.0 Dolby Digital Mono).

> Subtitles -English and Spanish.

> Running Time -1 hour, 52 minutes.

> Chapter Stops? -Yes. There are an abundance of chapter breaks here (49 total).

"The Making Of American Graffiti" Documentary:

> Video -Full Frame 1.33:1 (With clips from the actual film shown in 2.35:1 Widescreen).

> Audio -English only (2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo).

> Subtitles -English, Spanish, and French.

> Running Time -1 hour, 18 minutes.

> Chapter Stops? -Yes. There are 7 total chapter breaks.

>> Menus -All "Static". No music. No animated transitions.

>> Packaging -Keep Case. (One Disc.)

>> Enclosures/Inserts? -Yes. There's a very nicely-done 8-page fold-out booklet, which includes behind-the-camera photos and quotes from George Lucas and many other cast members on their memories of the film. Plus: Full Chapter Lists for both the movie's Scene Selections and the Making-Of Documentary.


"American Graffiti", IMO, is in a class by itself. It has the perfect 1960s "feel" to it, that Director George Lucas strives so hard for (and succeeds in portraying). Each time you re-visit this film you are immediately transported back to the Summer of 1962, and to all those great oldies blaring away on the car radio.

Read Best Reviews of American Graffiti (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) (1973) Here

-> BLU-RAY review

Film: 8/10

Picture quality: 8/10

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (orig.)

Run time 24fps: 1:52'29"

Audio: GB (dts HD MA);J;F;D;I;E;POR;


Chpt.: 50


Making-of, 78' (in SD, same as on DVD)

Screen tests, 23' HD (16mm, 1972, DP Haskell Wexler)

"U control":

-PIP video commentaries by George Lucas

-"The music of A.G." title/performer info on currently playing music


Studio: Universal

Despite some discouraging reviews here, I must say this BD is worth the upgrade from DVD! Image may not be perfect but it is fairly good. I have checked the BD against the DVD and it really is a BIG step up picturewise!

This BD release shouldn't be blamed for the very few limitations that the source material had. It's interesting to hear what George Lucas had to say in his video commentaries (= GLvc) on this.

I'm sure American Graffiti has never looked better in home theatres. Enjoy!

When it comes to picture quality one has to keep in mind that

the film was shot in "Techniscope" (i.e. 2 perforation holes instead of 4, as in "Cinemascope" ) hence cutting stock costs in half unfortunately same goes for picture resolution. Therefore a slightly lesser picture quality than in usual Cinemascope Blu-ray transfers is the result. (GLvc TC 00:14:40)

shot mostly with 'available light' camera operators had difficulties to stay in focus (-> 'depth of field') e.g. TC 00:02:05; 00:03:24-31; 00:12:15 (GLvc 00:11:28, 00:39:48)

fortunately they kept the DNR mallet in the box and the transfer shows some decent healthy grain in very good images e.g. 00:10:52; 00:12:33; 00:14:47.

unfortunately some edge enhancement is visible here and there (e.g. light reflections on chrome parts of vintage cars 00:38:14)

I always loved this movie and admired George Lucas' tenacity to pull this off against all odds! Every effort had been put into production design ("embossed" vs. "painted Coke bottles" GLvc TC 01:01:54) to re-create this marvelous '62 time bubble but they got (at least) one tiny detail wrong: The high school band's guitarist plays a blonde(?) Stratocaster with 'enlarged headstock'. This wasn't introduced on Strats until mid/late '65 after Leo Fender had sold his company to CBS.

PS: If you're still not happy with your home theater's performance there might be another reason for it: Unfortunately many manufacturers' tv-presets are faulty ("...what a waste of machinery!"). To optimize your Full HD monitor (no easy task with today's complex high tech flat tvs; -> color gamut, gamma, white balance etc), you might like to check out this UK website:


It will provide you with expert tests+reviews and settings that can make the best of your tv set and help reduce power consumption too!

Simply go to: "all reviews",

select your tv (knock off last characters/digits on model no. -> UK plugs),

go to "settings"/"calibration"

adjust your flat tv done!

...sure helped me with my 46" Full HD Samsung, and "I'm not feeding a line here Debbie!"

Want American Graffiti (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) (1973) Discount?

I recently purchased and took delivery of this new Blu-ray edition of one of my Top 10 movies of all time. I have a copy of this film on VHS, Laser Disc, and the most recent Collector's Edition DVD. This newly restored Blu-ray has the best looking picture, yet! Whoever did the restoration and transfer made the film look like it was shot yesterday! The sound (which drives the storyline) is still in 2-channel stero, but it is in DTS. I remember seeing this movie shortly after I was discharged from the military in 1974 and I remembered how great the soundtract was, blaring out at appropriate times and becoming a surrounding echo on the occasions when the cruise scenes were shot and everyone on the strip had their car radios tuned to the exact same channel that the Wolfman Jack Show was on. This was a small movie in 1973, but it's charm and influence will carry it through whatever future media it is presented in.

Save 25% Off

No comments:

Post a Comment